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Poverty Olympics carries the torch for social issues

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    Poverty Olympics carries the torch for social issues ELIANNA LEV The Canadian Press February 4, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2008
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      Poverty Olympics carries the torch for social issues

      The Canadian Press

      February 4, 2008


      VANCOUVER -- Poverty-line high jump, long-jumping over a bedbug-infested mattress and welfare hurdles won't be official sports at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

      But yesterday, the categories took centre stage at the first Poverty Olympics.

      The "games" were staged by several anti-poverty groups in Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside and drew a standing-room crowd to a neighbourhood community centre.

      Part community theatre, part social activism, organizers say they were meant to raise awareness of the hardship, challenges and substandard living conditions many residents in the area deal with regularly while governments fund the Winter Olympics.

      Like in the real Olympics, a fake torch was brought in to light a towering larger one, which was marked with the words "End Poverty." They also had their own version of mascots - Itchy the Bedbug, Chewy the Rat and Creepy the Cockroach.

      During the poverty-line high jump, characters like Rachelle Singlemom and Disabled Joe tried to jump over a high-jump bar marked with the words "Poverty Line." Each attempt failed as the bar was raised about three metres off the ground.

      Posters hung on the wall painted with the Olympic rings with handcuffs instead of circles, with the slogan "Poverty: It's Not a Game."

      "[The Olympics] have a $6-billion budget," said Master of Ceremonies Bob Sarti, who was dressed as a giant rat. "All we know is that this is our Olympics, with a $6 budget."

      Resident Laurel Dykstra brought her twin six-year-old girls to the event, which was a mix of many community members and a swarm of media.

      "I think this is a hilarious and excellent representation of what this Olympic extravaganza is going to mean for the people who live here [in the Downtown Eastside]," she said. "It's a whole lot of money spent on things that aren't going to be relevant for our lives."

      Last week, Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee promised not to leave behind social housing as part of the Games.

      Committee head John Furlong said it has committed $66.5-million toward social housing in Vancouver, Whistler and for natives. He promised the commitments would be reached even if other Games partners weren't able to meet promised goals.

      VANOC committed $30-million toward building the athletes village along Vancouver's False Creek on the condition 250 units of social housing remain after the Games.

      Another $30-million will be used in Whistler so workers can find affordable housing after the Olympics.

      VANOC has also committed $6.5-million toward native housing.

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